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Chains of Babylon

The Rise of Asian America

2009
Author:

Daryl J. Maeda

Chains of Babylon

Traces for the first time the rise of the radically antiracist and antiwar Asian American movement

In Chains of Babylon, Daryl J. Maeda presents a cultural history of Asian American activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, showing how the movement created the category of “Asian American” to join Asians of many ethnicities in racial solidarity. Drawing on the Black Power and antiwar movements, Asian American radicals argued that all Asians in the United States should resist assimilation and band together to oppose racism within the country and imperialism abroad.

A welcome corrective to the caricatures of ethnic studies as identity politics, civil rights, or multiculturalism, Chains of Babylon shows, instead, that ‘Asian America’ was conceived in struggle against racism and imperialism—a Third World project of liberation, self-determination, and decolonization. Importantly, this realization enables solidarities across the created and imposed divides of race, nation, and empire.

Gary Y. Okihiro, Columbia University

In Chains of Babylon, Daryl J. Maeda presents a cultural history of Asian American activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, showing how the movement created the category of “Asian American” to join Asians of many ethnicities in racial solidarity. Drawing on the Black Power and antiwar movements, Asian American radicals argued that all Asians in the United States should resist assimilation and band together to oppose racism within the country and imperialism abroad.

As revealed in Maeda’s in-depth work, the Asian American movement contended that people of all Asian ethnicities in the United States shared a common relationship to oppression and exploitation with each other and with other nonwhite peoples. In the early stages of the civil rights era, the possibility of assimilation was held out to Asian Americans under a model minority myth. Maeda insists that it was only in the disruption of that myth for both African Americans and Asian Americans in the 1960s and 1970s that the full Asian American culture and movement he describes could emerge. Maeda challenges accounts of the post-1968 era as hopelessly divisive by examining how racial and cultural identity enabled Asian Americans to see eye-to-eye with and support other groups of color in their campaigns for social justice.

Asian American opposition to the war in Vietnam, unlike that of the broader antiwar movement, was predicated on understanding it as a racial, specifically anti-Asian genocide. Throughout he argues that cultural critiques of racism and imperialism, the twin “chains of Babylon” of the title, informed the construction of a multiethnic Asian American identity committed to interracial and transnational solidarity.

Chains of Babylon

Daryl J. Maeda is assistant professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where he teaches Asian American studies and comparative ethnic studies.

Chains of Babylon

A welcome corrective to the caricatures of ethnic studies as identity politics, civil rights, or multiculturalism, Chains of Babylon shows, instead, that ‘Asian America’ was conceived in struggle against racism and imperialism—a Third World project of liberation, self-determination, and decolonization. Importantly, this realization enables solidarities across the created and imposed divides of race, nation, and empire.

Gary Y. Okihiro, Columbia University

Chains of Babylon offers a compelling interpretation of the complex historical origins of the racial identity ‘Asian American.’

Western American Literature

Chains of Babylon is the first cultural history of Asian American identity— one that rejected whiteness— that delivers a powerful lesson: that having an organized and passionate movement can make up for not having the absolute majority on one’s side.

The Western Historical Quarterly

Maeda not only fills in the gaps, but also extends our understanding of the complexities of ethnic and race relations, presents a cultural history of Asian American activism, and corrects those who focus on Asian American activism as solely a domestic struggle. He should be commended for writing a groundbreaking book that unearths the history of a generation of Asian American activists who challenged America to fulfill its commitment to social justice and equality both at home and abroad.

Contemporary Sociology

Maeda writes movingly about his subject but has no illusions about telling a representative story. A valuable contribution to a fuller and more diverse understanding of Asian America.

Journal of American History

Chains of Babylon is a must read for scholars interested in the political history of the 1960s, Asian-American racial formation, and the role of culture in social movements.

Social Forces

Daryl J. Maeda’s book highlights the self-recognition of shared experiences of racial oppression as key to the Asian American political consciousness that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. It succeeds as a cultural history of political activism during the period, when such consciousness went from incipient to full-blown. The book presciently draws attention to activists whose politics prefigured contemporary Asian American scholarly interests in transnationalism, anti-essentialism, empire, and ethnicity, as well as the unities among the cultural, the affective, and the personal as political.

American Historical Review

Chains of Babylon provides a compelling social and cultural history of the construction of Asian American identity during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Maeda develops a rich historical narrative about key events and expressions of radical Asian American activism. Chains of Babylon is a well-articulated, fascinating book that provides a new lens through which to understand Asian American identity. It is a must read for scholars and students alike who study the cultural history of the 1960s and the Asian American movement. Students of culture, immigration, race/ethnicity, and social movements will also find that the book holds important insights about group formation, identity, cultural production, and intergroup relations.

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